You hear all the time from Republicans that if the lying Fake News Media gave proper attention to the booming, incredibly great economy, the president’s approval ratings would be fine and he’d be rolling toward an easy reelection. The president himself expressed that opinion early this morning:
Most people who aren’t in the Trump tank read this sort of thing, maybe roll their eyes and say “whatever,” and move along. But Washington Post data dawg Dylan Byler, bless his pointy head, offered an actual analysis of this dubious notion and methodically ripped it apart:
If the president wanted the media to cover the economy more often, he could have focused on it more. Instead, he tried to pass a series of unpopular Obamacare repeal-and-replace bills; nominated two Supreme Court justices, one of whom was extremely controversial and had an extended, contentious confirmation fight; passed a traditional Republican tax reform bill; lost the House in the midterm elections; shut the government down over border wall funding; picked fights with protesting NFL players; went through a special investigation; got into trade fights with Canada and Mexico; and characterized white supremacists as “very fine people.”
Reasonable people can make (and have made) the case that the media has a liberal bias. But it’s impossible to look at the events of the last two-plus years and think that the media just decided not to focus on the economy or invent stories that made Trump seem ineffective.
So much for the major premise of Trump’s argument. Now for the minor premise:
If Trump’s overall approval exactly mirrored his approval rating on the economy, he’d be at +10: Fifty-three percent of registered voters approve of his handling of the economy per YouGov, while 43 percent disapprove, and 53 minus 43 equals 10. But even even if the media only covered the economy, it’s not clear Trump would get to a +10 margin. Only 11 percent of Americans said the economy was the most important issue to them in that same YouGov poll, while most Americans listed primarily non-economic issues as the most important: 50 percent listed abortion, gun control, foreign policy, education, gay rights, terrorism, the environment or immigration as their top issue. If someone disapproved of Trump for cultural reasons, then changing the tone of coverage or shifting to the economy may not be enough to get them aboard the Trump train.
Byler goes on to point out that the heavy influence of economic indicators on presidential approval seems to have broken down during both the Obama and Trump administrations, with culture and demography mattering more than a simple sense of economic well-being. If the Corrupt Media were somehow responsible for that, they were bipartisan about it.
The good news for POTUS is that if the economic news does at some point go south, Trump’s approval ratings may not fall all that much, either. At this point he’s not in much danger of becoming broadly popular or disastrously unpopular: he’s just boringly, repetitively, moderately unpopular. That’s what happens when you polarize the whole country and there are more of “them” than there are of “us.”